Having a bad day? Rep. David Rivera’s is far worse.
The Herald reports that defeated no-name Democratic primary candidate Justin Lamar Sternad’s testimony is consistent with the public accounts of campaign vendors – that Rep. Rivera funded and directed his campaign. Ana Alliegro, the GOP campaign consultant and friend of Rivera who has gone missing, apparently referred to the Congressman as “the gangster” when she talked to Sternad.
This story is incomparable, and it makes one realize why Carl Hiassen left the Herald’s newsroom to write novels: the envelopes of cash, the hotel-clerk candidate, Rivera’s Calle Ocho chutzpah, his apparent confidence that federal law need not apply to his campaign, and Ms. Alliegro’s disappearance, a mystery that looks like an act of iron loyalty to an undeserving Rivera.
Could Granma be speechless? The paper is covering the Latin Grammys rather than cranking up the screedster Jean-Guy Allard, who usually has to think up words like “gangster” all by himself.
But beyond all that and beyond the legal predicaments of Rep. Rivera and Ms. Alliegro, this saga is increasing the likelihood that Democratic nominee Joe Garcia will win the November election. Rivera’s finances and party support are tanking. Cuban American leaders are offering not one word of support. As national Democrats sense a chance to pick up the seat, resources are flowing to Garcia and will continue to do so.
Garcia’s election would mark a watershed in the Cuba debate in Washington because he would break the unanimity of opinion among Cuban Americans in the House and Senate. He would not be outdone by any of the veterans in his criticism of Cuban human rights practices, and Havana will surely call him a “terrorist” because he worked at the Cuban American National Foundation. But Garcia would be the first to support President Obama’s policies. He has a common-sense view of Cuban American family visits, one in line with the way most Americans approach the rest of the world: they are good for families, good for Cubans in Cuba, and they just might contribute to positive change there. He has had the temerity to question USAID programs, the amount of money that ends up in Miami, and their low impact in Cuba.
Cuba would not be at the center of his legislative priorities, as his district has more important concerns. But his impact would be significant. On the few occasions when Members of Congress face Cuba questions, many rely on the Cuban Americans now among them, or on our friend Mauricio who supports their campaigns, or on the bizarre Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Having done so, you can’t blame them for thinking that they have heard “how Cubans feel,” even though it’s nary impossible to find a Cuban in Cuba who likes the idea of being cut off from the outside world by any government’s travel restrictions, first and foremost Havana’s.
With Garcia in the mix, Cuba policy will not be transformed, but the debate will get healthier. For the first time the diversity in Cuban American opinion will be reflected right there in the Florida delegation. By a Cuban American who, like most Americans, sees openness as part of our identity, and as part of our strength.